HC Deb 19 July 1982 vol 28 cc15-6
14. Mr. Sheerman

asked the Minister for Trade if he has yet received the annual report of British Airways for 1981–82.

Mr. Sproat

No, Sir.

Mr. Sheerman

Will the Minister desist from behind the scenes efforts to manipulate the accounts before they appear? Does he not realise that attempts to massage the accounts before they appear in order to make British Airways more saleable to a private buyer have not gone without note? It has been commented on in The Times during the past week. Does he accept that actions such as pushing British Airways into panic measures, which will leave the airline weak, whether it is private or public, does the airline no good at all?

Mr. Sproat

I cannot desist from something that I am not doing. I am not manipulating the accounts of British Airways. The accounts of British Airways are a matter for the board of British Airways. I congratulate Sir John King and his team at British Airways on doing a splendid job in making the airline more profitable and ready for privatisation next year.

Mr. Wilkinson

I welcome the vigorous steps that Sir John King and his board of directors are taking in difficult circumstances to put BA on a sound financial footing, but does my hon. Friend agree that it is a matter for serious concern that these accounts have been delayed for so long? That would not be acceptable in a publicly quoted company. Is there not also concern that some items which one would have expected to see in last year's accounts are apparently to appear in this year's accounts?

Mr. Sproat

The House will be well advised to wait for the accounts. There is nothing particularly unusual about the timing of the accounts. I expect to see them in the time scale that I gave to the House a couple of months ago.

Mr. John Smith

Surely the Minister cannot escape responsibility for this matter. If the accounts are deliberately manipulated, as is widely predicted will be the case, the Minister cannot stand back from that. Is it not clear that British Airways, under their present chairman, are trying to manipulate their accounts and are seeking to sack 7,000 workers merely to accommodate the Government's obsession with selling off the airline at the first available opportunity?

Mr. Sproat

Every time the right hon. Gentleman comes to the Dispatch Box he gets it wrong, and he has got it wrong again. British Airways are looking for another 7,000 redundancies because they want to be profitable and their productivity is well below that of other international airlines. I entirely support what Sir John King is doing in this matter.

Mr. Eggar

Since the Opposition are so interested in the financial results of British Airways, will my hon. Friend arrange for the publication of the Price Waterhouse report into the efficiency of British Airways?

Mr. Sproat

The Price Waterhouse report was commissioned by British Airways, and it is entirely for British Airways whether they publish the report.

Mr. Jay

Does the Minister regard the adventures of Laker Airways as a strong argument for privatising British Airways?

Mr. Sproat

I regard the possibility of privatising British Airways as a chance to get off the backs of taxpayers the endless subsidies, guarantees and support that British Airways have enjoyed for many years. Our firm expectation is that British Airways will be placed in the private sector next year to the gratification of British Airways staff, shareholders and passengers.